Riding the wave of ‘new-new’ feminists

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 6:05 PM

Dr. Rhonda Matthews presented a lecture titled “Cardi B, Taylor Swift, & Politics of New New Feminism” for Women’s History Month on March 21. The presentation focused on many new female artists, along with the shifting culture of feminism and the way women are represented in the media.

A group of over two dozen high school students from the northwest Pennsylvania area were in attendance. And Matthews was prepared for both beginners and veterans of the issues, opening the presentation with a short introduction and a list of important terms such as culture, politics, gender, socialization and feminism. 

As she pitched these concepts as being interconnected, Matthews pointed out the fallacy in complaining about cultural issues showing up in media. “Every person who says, ‘I don’t want to see politics in pop culture!’ is missing the point, because politics are in every part of pop culture. People just pay attention to it when they want to.”

Matthews then pointed out the four waves of feminism and the term “intersectional feminism” so that everyone in the audience would continue to be on the same page. “What intersectional feminism seeks to do is look at oppression in a holistic manner,” explained Matthews before stating that gender, race, sex and economic status are oppressors that factor into the treatment of people. 

As she began to discuss the different types of media, the attention shifted to social media, where Matthews digressed briefly to discuss the controversial Snapchat ad of Rihanna and Chris Brown that made light of domestic violence. “This is gender [in our culture] at work. This ad is saying it’s acceptable in a public setting for a man to hit a woman.” 

She then took examples of two women from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, and described how they both received the same kind of hatred. 

The media’s obsession with defining women spans from politics, to movies, to music, according to Matthews. 

She first used rapper Cardi B as an example of a woman who is often criticized in the media due to her flagrant disregard of labels and her past as a stripper. She played a clean version of the smash single “Bodak Yellow” and dissected the way fourth-wave feminism is found in Cardi B’s work. Despite the musician’s refusal to label herself as a feminist, Matthews explained: “What Cardi B is doing here is she’s taking the basic concept of feminism, that it is equality, and she is applying it where she is. She is expressing power, personal power as well as economic power in the scope of this song.”

Despite Taylor Swift “coming late to feminism,” as Matthews noted, the pop-star has pointed out hypocrisy in the criticism she receives about the subject matters of heartbreak and romance in her music. 

The strongest example of Swift being a supporter of “new-new feminism” was circa August 2017 when she released her music video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” The video references culturally significant music videos such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Beyonce’s “Formation,” as well as Swift’s many feuds with others in the music and entertainment worlds that the media tends to over-hype and glamorize. 

“She’s taking these images and saying, ‘Listen, you excoriated me for being the good girl, you excoriated me for being the bad girl, so what can I be?’ which in itself is a feminist statement,” said Matthews.

She then shifted the attention to Beyonce, an artist she considers to be “the most popular intersectional feminist today.” Matthews explained that Beyonce continually uses politics as a base for her music, along with the music videos for her songs like “Formation” and “***Flawless,” the latter which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech. 

The latest examples of feminism, especially intersectional feminism in film, includes the diverse casting of “A Wrinkle in Time” and the Wakandan women in “Black Panther,” explained Matthews. In the latter, she stated: “there is no woman character in this film who is not strong. Who is not the epitome of feminism if women were left without patriarchy, colonialism, and these gendered stereotypes.”

Matthews named more notable women who are leading in the present-day political culture such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Malala Yousafzai, and the creator of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke. She also noted Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the recent Parkland High School shooting and activist for gun control reform as a face of new-new feminism.

“One of the things that not only she, but other young people such as Malala, have said to their various societies is that when you think about feminism, you have to stop thinking about it as being a domain of older people. Feminism is also the domain of younger people, and in fact, it must reside there.”

The presentation was wrapped up by two more examples of strong feminist ideals in the media, including the trope of strong women in dystopias and the Amy McGrath campaign video that is “completely and wholly steeped in feminism,” explained Matthews.

As the influencers of popular culture push towards the mindset of equality, Matthews reminded the audience that “the foundation that we are starting to see in new-new feminism has to do with making it accessible to people and that is why we’re seeing it so much in popular culture.” 

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